Unless your business or organization has been a complete and utter failure, you have positive stories to tell. And you have clients who would be thrilled to help you tell them.
Stories about how you solved problems. Stories about how you made someone’s life better. Stories about how you helped a business achieve a goal or turn the corner.
Then why aren’t you sharing those stories?
Traditionally, success stories are told in client testimonials and case studies. Both can help you prove the value of your product or service and validate your marketing claims.
Remember, when you say something about your business or organization, it’s a claim. When a client says it, it’s a fact. That’s why you ask clients for testimonials. That’s why you ask clients to contribute to your case studies.
Testimonials and case studies can be powerful marketing tools if executed correctly. But you would be hard-pressed to find testimonials and case studies that capture every element of a compelling story.
Here are the problems I see with conventional testimonials and case studies, and how you can benefit by telling and sharing real success stories.
The Problem with Testimonials
I’ve never read or watched a client testimonial that told the whole story. Ever.
Telling a compelling story requires more depth and effort than an email to a happy client that says, “Would you mind sending me a testimonial that says what you liked about working with me?”
A testimonial only includes the client’s perspective. The client might not know what went on behind the scenes. They usually don’t see the whole process. If they do, that’s not what they talk about in the testimonial.
Testimonials also tend to be fairly generic and loaded with marketing clichés.
Their people were so friendly and helpful. Their customer service was outstanding. They had the lowest prices.
This isn’t the client’s fault. You asked them to say what they liked about working with you, and that’s what they liked. They’re not marketing people or content writers, and their testimonials are factually accurate. So instead of repeating generic claims, tell a story that proves those claims with specifics.
In this era of skepticism, testimonials aren’t automatically believed. That’s why prospects vet testimonials by seeking out reviews, which tend to be more direct and, more importantly, don’t leave out negative comments.
The Problem with Case Studies
I’m actually a big believer in case studies. They’re effective sales and marketing tools, especially for larger companies that rely heavily on data to close a deal.
Case studies don’t have a substance problem. But they often have a perception problem.
Thanks to decades of conditioning, many people view case studies, like advertising, as self-serving and self-promotional. Case studies are just more long-winded.
Let’s cram as much data and as many charts as possible into this document, use fancy buzzwords like “synergy” and “ideation”, talk about how we think outside the box, and people will hire us for sure!
Unfortunately, today’s good case studies, like good advertising, suffer as a result of decades of awful case studies.
The other problem I see with case studies is that they go crazy with data, graphs and bullet points, while the story behind the numbers is either buried or non-existent. The structure of a case study isn’t exactly conducive to storytelling.
Regardless of how big and data-driven your business or organization is, sales are closed between real people on both sides of the table. The story matters.
Even if you do case studies the right way, sharing that information in a less structured story can make people more interested in your data and give it more credibility.
Why Storytelling Works
Telling and sharing a success story serves the same purpose as a traditional testimonial or case study. They all show people that others like them have done business with you and are very happy with the results you delivered. The goal is to win new clients by communicating and validating the positive experiences of existing clients.
Storytelling can also follow the same basic structure as a case study – problem, solution and process, outcome. But these elements are all woven into a cohesive story.
A good story has characters. It has conflict, or at least ups and downs. It builds anticipation. It tells you how and why, not just who and what. Most importantly, it has a point that the whole story is built around.
Storytelling focuses on the experience. It allows you to get deeper into the heart and mind of the client, who is the main character. Instead of focusing solely on what you did, a good story talks about what they were feeling.
Storytelling gets beyond what you do. It provides a window into who you are as a company, your character, and your values. Not by saying “these are our values”, but by showing how those values shine through during actual interactions with a client.
All these things make your success story believable and authentic. This is how you draw your audience in and build an emotional connection. People can more easily relate to experiences, thoughts and emotions than data points and marketing clichés.
As you know, persuading someone to take action requires you to make an emotional case and a logical case. A well-told story can do both.
Once you have a success story, turn it into a blog post and newsletter article. Share it on social media and professional networking platforms. Email it to clients and prospects. Give it a page on your website. Use it in your sales presentations.
A true success story could very well be the most compelling and versatile marketing content you have.
How Do You Come Up with a Good Story to Tell?
First, find a client who’s also an advocate. Start with your best referral partners. Ask clients who you think would be willing to get below the surface of their experience with you. Most would appreciate the exposure that a success story would provide.
A good story includes input from you and the client, so people from both sides should be interviewed. The client interview in particular is critical.
Just like good lawyers know the answers to questions before they ask them, a good interviewer knows what questions and to ask in order to extract the most important information.
By asking the right questions, wording the questions carefully, and asking follow-up questions, you get the answers that provide you with the makings of a great story. Not just facts, but thoughts and emotions.
Effective interviews also help you validate your marketing claims and differentiate your business or organization from competitors.
Testimonials can have value. Case studies can have value. Neither should be dismissed or ignored.
But if you want to make a real connection with your audience, earn their trust, get them to believe in you, and provide them with content that’s uniquely yours, tell them your success stories. With emphasis on stories.
And think of your next client experience as a story in the making.
I’m a copywriter, marketing consultant, lifelong New Jersey resident, husband to a beautiful wife and father to two beautiful girls. I love playing with my daughters, a day at the boardwalk, sarcasm, craft beer and grilling. I despise beating around the bush, synchronized swimming, Toddlers & Tiaras and onions. Most people don’t know I used to be a radio DJ and once wrote, produced and voiced a commercial for the TV show 24. Two places I want to visit before I die are Ireland and Norway, the homes of my ancestors. One place I never want to revisit is my first apartment because my creepy landlord, Monty, freaked me out. That just about covers it.